Moms and Dads, remember when your children were young, and the Director of the pre-school or kindergarten told you that your son or daughter was quite smart but just needed a little extra time to mature before (s)he moved up to the next grade?  You probably felt somewhat disappointed, but you knew in your heart of hearts that it wasn’t the end of the world and that the “gift of time” could actually mean the difference between a positive or negative school experience.

So let’s fast-forward to your son or daughter now finishing high school and you are having those discussions about, “What’s next?”  Whew, you trudged (and soared, on occasion) along these past twelve or thirteen years of helping your child through school, one step after another.  As we all know, the only consistent thing about an individual with attention deficits, learning differences, and/or social challenges is that there is inconsistency!  But you have worked with the tutors, met with the teachers, hired the therapists, listened to the counselors, and, voila, that high school diploma is within reach!

Surely, now you just keep plodding along on that linear track in our mindset, the next stop being four-years of college, right?!?  That’s what most of us did after high school, right?!?  Wait a minute, hold it, s-c-r-e-e-c-h … STOP!  Remember that gift of time you gave your son/daughter when he/she was five?  It may be time to bring out the wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows again!

I venture to say that if you are asked what you want for your adult child’s future, you will say you just want them to be happy, independent, and fulfilled.  You want them to develop personal goals and have the skill-sets to achieve them. You say that you don’t really care how they get there, but is that really true?   In the back of your mind, you might be thinking that sending them off to your alma mater sure would be nice, or that having them attend the state university with the great football team will make for terrific Parent Weekends.  And who knows, maybe that will be in their future, but maybe not – and that’s okay!

In today’s fast-paced, high-pressured, sexually-advanced college culture of do everything, go everywhere, surpass everyone, are we surprised to learn of the tragic increase in statistics surrounding anxiety, depression, drugs, alcohol, and even suicide?  It’s time to help our teenage children choose appropriate next steps. Having intelligence, athletic ability, or social ambition doesn’t mean your son or daughter is ready to break away from all types of guidance or supervision. It’s generally not advisable for a fairly-new driver to graduate from driving the family Subaru on neighborhood streets to racing a Maserati on an international speedway.  There are incremental steps to get there.

Young adults with ADHD, social anxiety, or learning differences are likely to experience difficulty with managing a full load of classes on their own, organizing their new living space, and negotiating a different social scene.  Maybe that’s too much right after high school. So what can your gift of time to them look like?  Here are a few ideas.

Suggestions regarding your Gift of Time:

  • Encourage your son or daughter to explore your local community college and sign up for one or two engaging classes, not just pre-requisites for an eventual major.   These might open up an area of interest not previously considered for a career path.
  • If he/she is ready, help them find a roommate and live in a nearby apartment to learn how to manage a shared space.  However, it’s critical to build in regular times throughout the week to “touch base” and monitor how things are going.  A contract between parent and young adult could help spell out expectations and prevent potential conflict about the parent role.  
  • If he/she is not ready for an apartment, consider establishing a little more “freedom” within your home to allow them the opportunity to stretch their wings a bit.  However, with freedom also comes increased responsibility around the house. Set up “adult” chores and budgets to see how they meet the challenges without you having to “hover.”
  • Explore options for part-time work – volunteer or paid.  It’s vital for all blossoming young adults to have a sense of self-worth and a contribution to an entity outside the family.  Again, finding a way to pair a potential career interest with a paid or non-paid position can be time (and probably a lack of money) very well-spent!  When they are ready for a more full-time college experience, it can be more targeted toward a true career path.
  • Investigate the possibility of working with professionals in your community who mentor and guide young adults who might specifically have a special need.  Programs are now being developed around the country to provide academic, career, and social support for a wide range of young adults.

The great news, Moms and Dads, is that this all now very socially acceptable.  Gap years, work-study years, apprenticeships, etc., are happening all over. Give yourself permission to step off that treadmill that was only headed in one direction.  Your son or daughter may very still end up where you had envisioned to start with, or maybe in some equally-wonderful place, but you can feel great that you gave them time and space to decide the best way to get there – probably the BEST present they’ll ever receive! Joyfully submitted by Pam Quarterman, M.M.Sc., CCC-SLP Executive Director, Segue Center in Dallas, TX

Also be sure to click the link and watch the recording of my interview with Pamela where we explore this topic in further detail:  Interview Series #1 with Pamela Quarterman.

About the Author:

Pamela Quarterman, M.M.Sc., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and veteran educator of children with ADHD and learning differences. She received her Masters of Medical Science in Communication Disorders from Emory University. Pamela was an educator, therapist, and the Executive Director of Oak Hill Academy, a special needs private school in Dallas, TX, for thirty years. She is now the creator and Executive Director of the Segue Center (https://www.seguecenter.org) in Dallas, TX, a program providing academic, career, and social support for young adults with ADHD, autism, learning differences, and/or social anxiety.